Speaker sets up body to engage opposition on poll reforms

Published May 7, 2021
National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Thursday constituted a five-member “committee” comprising members of the federal cabinet to engage the opposition on the issue. — APP/File
National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Thursday constituted a five-member “committee” comprising members of the federal cabinet to engage the opposition on the issue. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: After waiting for seven weeks for the opposition parties to nominate members for a special parliamentary committee on electoral reforms, National Assembly Speaker Asad Qaiser on Thursday constituted a five-member “committee” comprising members of the federal cabinet to engage the opposition on the issue.

According to an announcement by the National Assembly Secretariat, the “parliamentary committee” formed by the speaker comprises Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, Planning and Devel­opment Minister Asad Umer, Adviser to the PM on Parliamentary Affairs Babar Awan and Special Assistant to the PM on Political Affairs Malik Amir Dogar.

Immediately after the announcement, the two main opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan Peoples Party — rejected the speaker’s decision, saying that he had no right and powers to form any committee without the approval of the house and that they did not have trust in the speaker as well as the ruling PTI and its government.

“Perhaps, the speaker does not know the rules. He has no authority to do so. This is the job of parliament. Any committee, other than the standing committees, is constituted with the approval of the house,” said PML-N senior vice president Shahid Khaqan Abbasi while talking to Dawn.

PPP, PML-N challenge Asad Qaiser’s move, say they no more trust govt

Mr Abbasi asked the government to first disclose its real intents and make a policy statement on the floor of the house about its planned electoral reforms to allow the members to have a full-fledged debate before bringing any legislation.

“We have no confidence and faith in the government as well as the speaker. They have failed to gain our trust,” said Mr Abbasi, while categorically rejecting the speaker’s move.

“How can it be called a parliamentary committee when no such resolution has been approved by the assembly?” he asked while referring to the official handout of the NA Secretariat declaring the five-member ministers’ body as “the parliamentary committee”.

Political engineering

Similarly, PPP secretary general Farhatullah Babar, when contacted, also rejected the speaker’s move, saying they cannot trust the government on any issue keeping in view its track record.

“The real issues in election reforms are making and breaking of political parties, force making of political alliances like Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) in the past, stealing of people’s mandate and finally chasing out even those installed in offices through manipulations when they are perceived to have gone beyond brief,” said Mr Babar while doubting the government’s intentions behind its act of constantly pursuing the electoral reforms.

“The selected and hybrid regime of Imran Khan itself is a product of political engineering and manipulation and, therefore, is incapable of addressing these issues,” said Mr Babar, adding that the PTI government had never been serious in engaging the opposition in any meaningful dialogue.

“The offer of talks is only for optics, not substantive. PPP rejects it,” declared Mr Babar in categorical terms.

Earlier, the NA Secretariat issued a handout stating that the speaker had “formulated a five-member parliamentary committee to further the agenda of electoral reforms and to engage the opposition for seeking their consensus”.

It said the speaker had formulated this committee as Prime Minister Imran Khan had also written a letter to him regarding initiating the task of electoral reforms through constitution of a parliamentary committee. The speaker in a brief statement remarked that the electoral reforms were imperative to gain public trust on electoral process. He also mentioned that completing the process of electoral reforms before next election would ensure transparency and fairness.

On March 18, the speaker had sent letters to the parliamentary leaders of all parties, asking them to nominate the members for a special parliamentary committee on the issue of electoral reforms. The letter said the committee was being formed “in pursuant to the prime minister’s agenda, in the interest of democracy in Pakistan, to establish a credible and transparent electoral system and to put an end to all venues that allow for corrupt practices that are eroding our parliamentary democracy and to ensure transparent, fair and free elections at all levels”.

The opposition parties, however, gave no importance to the speaker’s letter.

On April 1, the opposition blocked the government’s move to present a resolution in the National Assembly authorising the speaker to constitute a parliamentary committee on electoral reforms.

Published in Dawn, May 7th, 2021

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